Many people get so wrapped up in the pre-starting education phase that they stay perpetually focused on how other startups form, never trying to bring their own business idea to life. Creating a startup is fundamentally a learning process on top of being a productive, creative endeavor. There are lessons you’ll only truly learn in the field, so to speak, so don’t let a sense of mystery around your goal stop you from taking the first steps.
This guide covers the general structure of how successful startups are made, with tips every step of the way that will save your time and the time of those who work alongside you. This should demystify the process enough for you to get started.
Growing a startup
If you want to know how to start a startup, there are two essential things you’ll need to either start with or develop over time. The first is a good idea, which is more about effort and less about pure luck or inspiration than you might think. Next is a support structure of early users, who will sharpen your products, pitch, marketing, branding, and much more at far lower costs than what businesses usually spend.
A great idea
In order for any business to gain traction when it first starts operation, it has to be offering something people really want. This is one of those tips that seems obvious, but you may be too close to your idea to realize how much appeal it really has. Never be afraid to be fickle with ideas before you’ve committed to making a prototype or gathering users. You’re going to need to try lots of things before you find an idea really worth the journey.
Start with a problem
Think beyond what you want to sell, and consider how your business would provide it to customers. An innovative idea won’t mean much if it’s executed in a way that people find inconvenient to try. Instead of just coming up with a gadget or type of service that has novelty in its description, start with a problem that you see lots of people dealing with in everyday life. A great business either fulfills a need or solves a problem, and if people see your idea and realize how their lives would be improved by it, you’ve got a killer idea.
Thorough idea mapping
Many beginner businesspeople start by telling people about their idea before they’ve created a prototype. This is a major mistake that can kill momentum. You need to see how people react to a concrete prototype, not just the vague idea of it. Begin by writing and sketching out absolutely everything before and after you’ve committed to an idea. Leave nothing to memory, because it can help down the line to look through your old notes. New revelations can come from old, seemingly useless prototype sketches, so always leave notes and throw nothing away.
Make the best prototype possible
The less money you spend, the more steam you have for growing a startup and reaching success. The prototype stage is one of the most expensive, but it doesn’t have to be if you put real effort into your first one. Try to make the best vision of your product or service that you can in one try. You won’t succeed, but you’ll get far lighter feedback and won’t have to go start over repeatedly. Don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you wanted, because most people give up at this point.
Initial feedback splash
Chances are you’ll also have a better time selling people on the idea when it actually exists in some form. As for the initial people, make it at least 100, ideally more. Don’t make them all people you know and who would clearly be interested, either. Get a wide range of perspectives, and not just from what you think is your target audience. It should be easy to get the word out, and there are resources that can help. There is even a startup operating in Harlem called Ideacoil built around helping other startups get their initial feedback from everyday people.
Get more founders
Very few startups come from a single, first-time founder. At least one cofounder is a good idea, as you won’t be totally alone in the most fundamental and central role of the business. More than two founders total is even better, as long as everyone handles the tasks that suit them best. It’s not easy to find people who are passionate enough about your idea to pour as much time and effort as you, but they’re there, fresh out of universities, just out of an unrewarding job, and in other places. There are people out there with the time to work alongside you.
Building a team
Startups don’t need a ton of employees, so what matters is starting with the best people possible. Don’t skimp on this step and hire any friend who says he or she is interested. Many startups grow from skilled friends, but make sure any open roles are filled with the most driven people available. They need to be passionate about your startup, of course, but what matters even more is their passion for their work. Pick people who demand excellence of themselves. This way, when you expand it will be easier to find similar people who are connected to the experts you have.
Investors are the crucial funding source for the majority of startups. If you don’t have the funds to build your first version and launch it, let that be the hurdle that investors can solve. If you do have the capital, absolutely go for it. Put all your effort in and get the best data you can. This will serve as proof of concept for investors, which will make them more open to supporting your next steps.
Always keep moving
It may take time to get an investor, so don’t put things on hold until you attract one. It doesn’t look good to investors anyway. Continue to build and strengthen your model, and when you feel that it’s profitable enough, start to expand. Stay motivated and remember that the later into your success that you grab an investor, the better deals and greater offers you’ll get. Investors are all too happy to put more money into a working business to supercharge it, and they see the value in someone who can push forward without their support.
Get a user pool
The 1000 user milestone is considered a major test of entrepreneur mettle. However, it’s not as bad as it sounds, especially considering the prior steps. For this, you’ll have to be forward. Walk people through your sign-up process. Visit them and show them how your product works in their own home. Let them interact with what you sell. You’ll end up with some passionate users, and what you need to do is ask if they know anyone who would also enjoy your product or service. Let them sell for you by word of mouth, for free.
Growth matters most
You may get to a point where you are running a successful small business. Congratulations, but don’t stop! It will be obvious when you’ve hit market saturation, and until you do, keep growing. Focus on a model that keeps you profitable enough to justify everyone’s hard work, while never stagnating. Focus on the growth you attain every week, and use it as motivation for your team and investors. It’s hard for anyone to get discouraged when the lines are continually moving upward.
The start of the end
Finally, let’s say you finally hit the point where you’re all done. Maybe you’re ready to move on to a new idea, or you’re happy with what you made and want it off your hands. At this point, you could enter the stock market, sell to a corporation, merge, or take other options. Just make sure you’re happy with the potential consequences. Once something’s out of your hands, there’s no guarantee that it will stay the same thing you built, or that it will even stay afloat. But most successful startup owners move on eventually, and put their skills into a new venture.
Starting a startup might seem like an impossibly complicated task, but in reality it’s just a simple, challenging, long-term adventure. Not everyone has the drive and circumstances to reach the end, but you can avoid many of the pitfalls that kill young businesses by following the guidelines above.